For Twitter To “Make History,” CEO Vaccarino Must Become The Chief Trust Officer

Recently, new Twitter CEO, Linda Vaccarino, told the world that Twitter would be “making history.” CEO Vaccarino faces many challenges. Current business press describe Twitter’s challenges on a daily basis. One of Twitter’s most pressing challenges is its stultifying trust deficit. Twitter’s trust decay is said to be the result of Mr. Musk’s Twitter changes since his purchase of the social networking site. Here are just some of the issues highlighted by business writers and observers.

  • Advertisers are still “spooked:” by Elon Musk’s “laissez faire attitude about free speech and content moderation.” 
  • Elon Musk stated by March of 2023, Twitter’s ad dollars showed a slump of 50%-60%, depending on the specific press report. 
  • Fidelity Investments “cut its private valuation” of Twitter by one third. 
  • Mark Reed, CEO of WPP Plc, the world’s largest advertising organization, continued to advise clients that in regards to running ads on Twitter, clients should “proceed with caution.” 
  • Some big advertisers still stay away from Twitter as Mr. Musk eliminated the “guardrails” protecting Twitter from rampant “misinformation and toxic content.” 
  • New Twitter CEO, Linda Vaccarino, has as her first task to “stop the bleeding” of ad dollars. 
  • CEO Vaccarino told sales teams that “hand-to-hand combat would be on the agenda in order to “persuade” advertisers to return.
  • CEO Vaccarino’s job just became more difficult as owner Musk’s limits on user activity “… further erode” advertiser trust in Twitter. Said one industry director, “The advertiser trust deficit that Linda Vaccarino needs to reverse just got even bigger. And, it cannot be reversed based on her industry credibility.”
  • Fortune magazine reported results from a May 2023Pew Research Center study revealing that 60% of U.S. users had “taken a break” from the platform over the past year.
  • CEO Vaccarino defended Mr. Musk’s caps on allowable-number-of-posts-read by stating, “When you have a mission like Twitter you need to make big moves to keep strengthening the platform. This work is meaningful and ongoing.”
  • However, CEO Vaccarino’s statement and other Twitter statements appear to not be working. Fortune magazine reports that users “…continue to slam the company’s latest unpopular move.”
  • And, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek on July 6, 2023, Meta’s Threads, its Twitter fighter, signed up 30 million users in its first 24 hours, 10 millions of these signed up in Threads’ first 7 hours, and there are currently 70 million sign-ups.  
  • The Wall Street Journal points out, Threads’ ability to entice advertisers is the real prize for Meta… and the real problem for Twitter. Facebook generates $115 billion in ad revenues while prior to Mr. Musk’s purchase and the loss of advertisers, Twitter generated $4.7 billion in advertising. Apparently, since its inception, advertisers have flocked to Threads. One reason is its Instagram base allowing advertisers to identify specific customers.

Amid its trust deficit situation, the now competitive market, and, hopefully, to galvanize Twitter’s employees, CEO Vaccarino articulated Twitter’s new mission and Brand-Business Promise. Ms. Vaccarino said, “Twitter is on a mission to become the world’s most accurate, real-time information source and a global town square for communication.” As for Twitter’s Brand-Business Promise, Ms. Vaccarino said, “…to drive civilization forward through the unfiltered exchange of information and open dialogue about the things that matter most to us.”

Two things. First, “unfiltered” exchanges are exactly what spook advertisers. Second, nowhere in the mission or promise do we read the word trust. Twitter wants to be accurate; Twitter wants to be an information source; Twitter wants to be a global town square for communication; and Twitter wants to be a positive change-agent for civilization. But, Twitter (and perhaps, Twitter’s users?) does not seem to care about being trustworthy.

This is problematic. To create positive, strong advertiser relationships, Twitter must become trustworthy. Trust is an essential asset in building and maintaining long-term relationships. Without trust, nothing else matters. Trust is indispensable when building a powerful brand-business.

To combat both internal and external trust deficits, CEO Linda Vaccarino must become Twitter’s Chief Trust Officer. Be the most trusted brand-business in every market in which you compete. Trust cannot be delegated. Trust is the CEO’s responsibility. Trust begins at the top. The CEO creates an enterprise and a culture.

Trust must be on the Twitter agenda. A powerful brand is more than a trademark; a powerful brand is a trustmark. For trust to develop, a brand-business must deliver its promise in a quality manner (consistently delivering against stakeholder expectations). 

With a new CEO, Twitter has an opportunity to become a trusted social medium in a world where institutional trust is in severe decline. CEO Vaccarino, in her role as Chief Trust Officer, should create a Trust Agenda that includes these four Trust building components.

  1. Be a credible source
  2. Have an excellent reputation 
  3. Be a pillar of integrity
  4. Have a responsibility ethic

Be a credible source

  • Twitter must become a credible source. Credibility means that what you say and do are plausible. Twitter must create believers. Is Twitter perceived as predictable, reliable and of quality? This means that users are satisfied. It means that users prefer the brand-business to alternatives. Fortune magazine reports that users are using Twitter less. Credibility means that Twitter must provide superior complaint resolution. And, must provide correct information.
  • CEO Vaccarino stated that Twitter would focus on becoming “the world’s most accurate, real-time information source.” At the same time, she indicated that Twitter would be “unfiltered.” This paradox promise of accuracy and unfiltered might work if Twitter were deemed credible. But, nowhere in the mission and promise is the idea that what you read on Twitter will be credible. If Twitter is not credible, then its information can be deemed not true and, then, not trusted.
  • Being a credible source means all stakeholders have confidence that Twitter provides true information. This is critical as communications from highly credible sources are more persuasive and more likely to be believed. 
  • A credible brand acts as a “quality” cue lessening client- and customer-perceived risk during decision-making. Credibility makes decision-making easier because the customer trusts the authority of the enterprise. 

Have an excellent reputation

  • Having an excellent reputation may be a tough challenge for Twitter. One of the troubling issues for clients has been the mercurial behavior of its owner. As pointed out in the business press, it is the “cavalier attitude” of Mr. Musk towards content that has sent shivers down advertisers spines. Having an excellent reputation means continually behaving in the same quality manner during each and every interaction. Reputation is a competitive advantage. 
  • Additionally, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Mr. Musk has not been as transparent as he says he is when it comes to opening data to academics. Openness is critical for trust.
  • Reputation signals what a brand-business previously accomplished: its track record for quality, leadership, innovation and leadership. Think of reputation as a representation of the brand-business’ past behaviors and results. Twitter has a reputable past. But, there is a disconnect between Twitter’s past accomplishments and its recent actions. 
  • Reputation describes a brand-business’ ability to deliver valued outcomes to multiple stakeholders. 
  • Twitter does not create its reputation. Reputation is not something a brand-business determines.  Reputation is based on stakeholders’ perceptions. Reputation is the collective accumulation of stakeholder perceptions over time
  • Do not think that reputation is a theoretical construct. An excellent reputation facilitates client and customer decision-making. Reputation can increase business performance. For Twitter, this means helping to sell ad space at increased margin. 
  • It is not enough to say that advertisers have returned. Have advertisers returned with the same financial willingness? Are their budgets comparable to pre-Musk-ownership levels?

Be a pillar of integrity

  • CEO Vaccarino’s statements do not appear to cast Twitter as a pillar of integrity. And, maybe, Twitter does not want this role. The take-away is that in order for Twitter to be a transformed global town square, users and advertisers will be allowed to say and show what they wish… unfiltered.
  • Being a pillar of integrity means that all actions and behaviors, internally and externally, have the best interests of stakeholders at heart. Being a pillar of integrity means that stakeholders and others perceive Twitter as impartial and open-minded (Twitter is clearly focused on these two characteristics), but also perceived as respectable, just and unthreatening. Trust can help Twitter maximize these contradictory needs.
  • Integrity refers to a brand-business’s core values and purpose. Integrity derives from the brand-business’ guiding principles; the brand-business’ reason for being. Based on the limited information publicly available, it is difficult to know if any of Twitter’s underlying principles focus on integrity. Such principles should be basic truths and checkable claims.
  • As a pillar of integrity, a brand-business understands the value of its relationships with all its stakeholders. This value is more than monetary. Stakeholder value means generating a client and customer base that is larger, using more often, more profitable and more loyal. 
  • Integrity is seen through the eyes of all stakeholders. Does Twitter share values with its stakeholders? Does Twitter have stakeholder best interests at heart? Is Twitter accountable for its actions? Is Twitter perceived to be executing with ethical behaviors? Does Twitter have confidence in its employees? Who are the audiences for Twitter?

Have a responsibility ethic

  • Having a responsibility ethic means that as a global citizen or global forum, Twitter must behave positively on behalf of people, communities, nations and the planet. When Twitter states it wishes to be “the world’s most accurate real-time information source and global town square for communication,” Twitter must take some responsibility for what it does and what ensues. Complete freedom is anarchy. This is why we have laws. Having laws does not crimp freedom. Laws save freedom from anarchic destruction… or as Twitter’s mission of “unfiltered” appears to be advocating, participatory anarchism.
  • Responsibility can influence brand preference. Data show that a brand-business’ social reputation influences purchase decisions. Customers and clients are drawn to brand-businesses that “do good. These same groups are not averse to boycotting or publicly berating those perceived to be “not responsible.” 
  • CEO Vaccarino’s rejoining the Tech Coalition is a good first step. A pan-industry group, the Tech Coalition is dedicated to child safety. Owner Musk had pulled out of the coalition in March in order to save the $40,000 membership fee.

Chief Trust Officer is not a function. It is a fundamental leadership responsibility. The role of the Chief Trust Officer is more than a title. It is an indispensable trust-building task of major cultural significance inside and outside the enterprise.

As Chief Trust Officer, CEO Vaccarino must create and implement a trust agenda. A trust agenda provides direction for how the enterprise will build trust across geography, people, local communities, nations and time. A trust agenda’s goal is to create and reinforce trustworthy stakeholder relationships, which are the basis for high quality revenue growth.